By Eric Stevens
The news reveals that we are a fickle people. I mean that in the worst way possible.
Large numbers of college students are involved in cheating. So are spouses—even Christians. People rage with deadly anger because of minor traffic miscues. Children appear to have never heard such courtesies as “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.”
These symptoms in our society are related. There is an erosion of respect, not just for one’s elders, but even one’s parents, and in some cases, one’s children. The “Me Generation” has become the “Me Nation.”
How does the church stem this tide of disrespect and irresponsibility? In the letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul calls for men who would rise up and take a stand for what is good and holy—to take a stand against the false and shallow.
The letters describe what kind of men can lead the church to be godly in a godless society. They describe the kind of men we need to step up and lead us. We need men who have demonstrated they do not have to give in to a world that is in a spiritual down cycle.
This article is the second in a two-part series that discusses the character of the man God wants to be a congregational leader. We looked at the personal life and family life of the elder in part one. In part two we look at the public life and the congregational life of the elder.
The qualities of elders/overseers detailed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are not qualities all that different from the character required of all Christians. Whether it is Jesus (the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12), Peter (2 Peter 1:3-8) or Paul (Galatians 5:19-23), the lists of virtues and vices are consistent.
What is perhaps startling in the lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 is the lack of the big theological virtues such as love and faith and hope. It may be that these descriptions are in fact too generic for Paul’s purposes. What he is actually describing in these chapters is love “with skin on it” and faith with “flesh and bones.”
Paul makes the abstract concrete in these lists. How do I show love? I show it by being hospitable and gentle and peaceable. How do I show my faith? By holding fast to the faithful word, being devout, and being able to teach.
A large number of the characteristics describing the elder candidate have to do with the ability to get along well with people. It has been observed that several of the characteristics appear in virtue lists in the ancient world. These characteristics build on the virtue of self-control.
The elder is to be respectable (1 Timothy 3:2). He knows what is acceptable in society and he is not known for outlandish behavior or appearance. His kind soul is described as peaceable and gentle and not pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:3). These words indicate this man does not try to gain his way through verbal or physical bullying. He is not self-willed (Titus 1:7). He is just (Titus 1:8). He is able to see things objectively and deal with people without prejudice. He tries to view situations from God’s perspective.
This man does not have impulses that master him. Paul mentions two in particular.
The elder is not a heavy drinker of alcohol. He is not addicted to much wine (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). This should be understood to include all sorts of chemical addictions, such as the abuse of illegal or prescription drugs.
Neither is the elder a man who is so absorbed by money that he loses his senses. He is free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). His time and decisions are not controlled by monetary objectives or his desire to become rich (see 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 5:1-5).
The man who is an elder demonstrates his devotion to God by not being fractured spiritually by booze or bucks.
I’m putting hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) into two areas (see below). This characteristic demonstrates friendliness and generosity. When this is the tenor of life, it is no wonder a man has a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Timothy 3:7).
The man who provides an example to the people of God has to be known for his love for people. He is not a person who wrongs anyone, but is one who does his best to build relationships with others.
Some characteristics in these lists address the current place the potential elder has in the local congregation.
The man who is spiritually mature enough to lead the local congregation is not a new convert (1 Timothy 3:6). New converts do not have depth and breadth in their knowledge of the Word of God. Neither do they have enough experience in implementing their faith to be able to guide others. The man who is ready for the eldership has grown over time in faith and obedience
This man is also devout (Titus 1:8). The word describes a person who is consistent in his religious obligations. He attends and enjoys worship. He values the Lord’s table. He spends time in prayer. He is willing to put his money where his mouth is—for the Lord’s sake!
This man is hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). This characteristic is worth repeating because the elder should be kind and generous to those in the congregation. He may host small group meetings in his home. He may have members of his flock over for a meal.
It may become necessary, for various reasons, for the elder to visit those under his care in their homes. Having had them over to his house first is a good way to make those visits more comfortable. He has already demonstrated that he is genuinely interested in their lives!
An ability to apply the Word of God is a necessary attribute for the elder. He is able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). How do you know he is able to teach? He has done it! This man has been a teacher of a Bible study class or a small group. Perhaps he has shared thoughtful Communion meditations or participated in the evangelistic or discipleship ministries of the congregation. He knows the truth of God’s faithful Word and can use his knowledge to instruct believers in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
How does a man gain this kind of knowledge? He gains it by reading his Bible regularly, by attending classes that go deep in doctrine (perhaps at a local Bible college), and by reading on his own.
The man suitable for the eldership is above reproach as God’s steward (Titus 1:7). This means he has previously participated in a number of ministries in the congregation and has been faithful in carrying out whatever duties he has been assigned. He has been on time and prepared, worked with excellence and within budget! He has demonstrated in little ways (Luke 16:10; 19:17) that he can indeed take care of the household of God (1 Timothy 3:5).
We began this series with the idea that the work of the elder is a fine work. It’s a good job to have. The church needs shepherds with maturity and integrity to lead, feed, and guard the flock. First Timothy 5:17 says that elders who do their job well are worthy of double honor. But they are not the kind of people who seek their own honor—what they want most of all is to see you grow (Hebrews 13:17).
1 Gordon D. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, NIBC (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984, 1988), 78.
Eric Stevens is professor of New Testament at Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Missouri.